News In Brief

"There is no going back" on the decision to declare independence this year, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat declared. To rousing applause, he told the Palestinian Legislative Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah that statehood would be declared even if no final peace agreement were reached with Israel. The two sides continue to aim for a deal by Sept. 13, although they missed their mid-February deadline for producing its outlines. Arafat did not specifically refer to September in his address, apparently to keep his options as open as possible. He already has agreed once - last May - to postpone a declaration, however, and analysts said it would be difficult for him to do so again.

Eighteen people, four of them French peacekeepers, were hurt in Kosovo's tensest city when an argument between Albanian and Serb youths erupted in violence. Reports said firearms and hand grenades were used by the combatants. The incident followed last weekend's successful effort by peacekeepers in Kosovska Mitrovica to return some Albanians to their apartments in a Serb neighborhood. In a meeting with Russia's foreign minister, the UN special envoy to the Balkans Carl Bildt acknowledged that his agency's work in Kosovo was "progressing with difficulty."

A powerful remote-controlled bomb exploded in Spain's Basque country, injuring eight people as the nation counted down to this weekend's general election. The blast, in the tourist city of San Sebastian, appeared aimed at a passing police car and was blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA. The group is believed to be trying to intimidate Basques into not voting Sunday. Tens of thousands of Basques reportedly have applied for absentee ballots to escape harassment at the polls.

In an unprecedented move, Pope John Paul II publicly will ask forgiveness for "the past and present sins" of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican officials said. The appeal, scheduled for a mass Sunday at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, is expected to cover the church's treatment of Jews, women, "native peoples," and actions that damaged Christian unity. But a Vatican spokesman said the pontiff would not name names and that the appeal would not be a form of "self-flagellation."

A major overhaul of the Syrian government appeared likely after President Hafez Assad's son told a newspaper "we need it more than at any time before." Bashar Assad holds no formal post in his father's regime but is regarded as influential nonetheless. Other political sources said they expected Prime Minister Mahmoud Zubi, who's served since 1987, to submit his resignation soon.

No pardon will be extended to convicted French Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon, President Jacques Chirac said. Chirac said he had rejected a plea by Papon that various medical conditions were a danger if he were forced to spend additional time in prison. Papon was sentenced to 10 years behind bars in 1998 for his role in sending French Jews to Nazi death camps. He tried to escape punishment last fall by fleeing to Switzerland but was quickly apprehended.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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